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Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus
12 - 41

Caligula was the third emperor of Rome. At best, he was one of the most autocratic of Rome's early emperors; at worst, one of the most deranged.


Caligula was born Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus in Antium (modern Anzio) on Aug. 31, A.D. 12. His mother, Agrippina, was Emperor Augustus's granddaughter, and his father, Germanicus, was Emperor Tiberius's nephew, adopted son, and heir. Gaius was brought up among the soldiers his father commanded on the Rhine. His mother dressed him in the uniform of a Roman legionnaire, and for this reason the soldiers called him Caligula ("Little Boots"), the name by which he is commonly known.

In A.D. 19 Germanicus died. His death was mourned throughout the empire because he was, by all accounts, an honourable and courageous man. After his father's death Caligula lived in Rome, first with his mother, then with Livia (Augustus's wife), and then with his grandmother. Finally, in 32, he joined Tiberius in his retirement on Capri.

By 33 those people with prior claims to the imperial position, including Caligula's brother Drusus, had died, and Caligula was next in line to succeed Tiberius. Caligula held public office in 31 and 33 but, apart from that brief experience, had no other training for political life. His experience at Tiberius's court seems largely to have been in the art of dissembling - hiding what his biographer Suetonius calls Caligula's "natural cruelty and viciousness."

Tiberius died in 37, and Caligula was acclaimed emperor in March. During the first months of his reign he distributed the legacies left by Tiberius and Livia to the Roman people, and after the austerity which Tiberius had practiced the games and chariot races Caligula held were welcomed. He was respectful to the Senate, adopted his cousin Tiberius Gemellus as his son and heir, and recalled political exiles who had been banished during the reigns of his predecessors.

But by the spring of 38 the character of Caligula's rule changed drastically. An illness late in 37 seems to have seriously affected his mind. Suetonius claims that, after the illness, Caligula succumbed completely to the role of Oriental despot. In all things he became arbitrary and cruel. He murdered, among others, Tiberius Gemellus, humiliated the Senate, and spent money recklessly. He revived treason trials so that he could confiscate the property of the convicted. Caligula's extravagances included building a temple to himself in Rome and appointing his favourite horse as high priest.

Caligula spent the winter of 39/40 in Gaul and on the Rhine and planned to invade Germany or Britain. His plans aroused some patriotic fervour, but the project was abandoned.

After his return to Rome, Caligula lived in constant fear and real danger of assassination. He was murdered by a tribune of the Praetorian Guards on Jan. 24, 41. His fourth wife and his daughter, who was his only child, were murdered at the same time.



Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (b. A.D. 12, d. A.D. 41, emperor A.D. 37-41) represents a turning point in the early history of the Principate. Unfortunately, his is the most poorly documented reign of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. The literary sources for these four years are meager, frequently anecdotal, and universally hostile.[[1]] As a result, not only are many of the events of the reign unclear, but Gaius himself appears more as a caricature than a real person, a crazed megalomaniac given to capricious cruelty and harebrained schemes. Although some headway can be made in disentangling truth from embellishment, the true character of the youthful emperor will forever elude us.

Gaius's Early Life and Reign

Gaius was born on 31 August, A.D. 12, probably at the Julio-Claudian resort of Antium (modern Anzio), the third of six children born to Augustus's adopted grandson, Germanicus, and Augustus's granddaughter, Agrippina. As a baby he accompanied his parents on military campaigns in the north and was shown to the troops wearing a miniature soldier's outfit, including the hob-nailed sandal called caliga, whence the nickname by which posterity remembers him.His childhood was not a happy one, spent amid an atmosphere of paranoia, suspicion, and murder. Instability within the Julio-Claudian house, generated by uncertainty over the succession, led to a series of personal tragedies. When his father died under suspicious circumstances on 10 October A.D. 19, relations between his mother and his grand-uncle, the emperor Tiberius, deteriorated irretrievably, and the adolescent Gaius was sent to live first with his great-grandmother Livia in A.D. 27 and then, following Livia's death two years later, with his grandmother Antonia. Shortly before the fall of Tiberius's Praetorian Prefect, Sejanus, in A.D. 31 he was summoned to join Tiberius at his villa on Capri, where he remained until his accession in A.D. 37. In the interim, his two brothers and his mother suffered demotion and, eventually, violent death. Throughout these years, the only position of administrative responsibility Gaius held was an honorary quaestorship in A.D. 33.

When Tiberius died on 16 March A.D. 37, Gaius was in a perfect position to assume power, despite the obstacle of Tiberius's will, which named him and his cousin Tiberius Gemellus joint heirs. (Gemellus's life was shortened considerably by this bequest, since Gaius ordered him killed within a matter of months.) Backed by the Praetorian Prefect Q. Sutorius Macro, Gaius asserted his dominance. He had Tiberius's will declared null and void on grounds of insanity, accepted the powers of the Principate as conferred by the Senate, and entered Rome on 28 March amid scenes of wild rejoicing. His first acts were generous in spirit: he paid Tiberius's bequests and gave a cash bonus to the Praetorian Guard, the first recorded donativum to troops in imperial history. He honoured his father and other dead relatives and publicly destroyed Tiberius's personal papers, which no doubt implicated many of the Roman elite in the destruction of Gaius's immediate family. Finally, he recalled exiles and reimbursed those wronged by the imperial tax system. His popularity was immense. Yet within four years he lay in a bloody heap in a palace corridor, murdered by officers of the very guard entrusted to protect him. What went wrong?

Gaius's "Madness"

The ancient sources are practically unanimous as to the cause of Gaius's downfall: he was insane. The writers differ as to how this condition came about, but all agree that after his good start Gaius began to behave in an openly autocratic manner, even a crazed one. Outlandish stories cluster about the raving emperor, illustrating his excessive cruelty, immoral sexual escapades, or disrespect toward tradition and the Senate. The sources describe his incestuous relations with his sisters, laughable military campaigns in the north, the building of a pontoon bridge across the Bay at Baiae, and the plan to make his horse a consul. Modern scholars have pored over these incidents and come up with a variety of explanations: Gaius suffered from an illness; he was misunderstood; he was corrupted by power; or, accepting the ancient evidence, they conclude that he was mad. However, appreciating the nature of the ancient sources is crucial when approaching this issue. Their unanimous hostility renders their testimony suspect, especially since Gaius's reported behaviour fits remarkably well with that of the ancient tyrant, a literary type enshrined in Greco-Roman tradition centuries before his reign. Further, the only eye-witness account of Gaius's behaviour, Philo's Embassy to Gaius, offers little evidence of outright insanity, despite the antagonism of the author, whom Gaius treated with the utmost disrespect. Rather, he comes across as aloof, arrogant, egotistical, and cuttingly witty -- but not insane. The best explanation both for Gaius's behaviour and the subsequent hostility of the sources is that he was an inexperienced young man thrust into a position of unlimited power, the true nature of which had been carefully disguised by its founder, Augustus. Gaius, however, saw through the disguise and began to act accordingly. This, coupled with his troubled upbringing and almost complete lack of tact led to behaviour that struck his contemporaries as extreme, even insane.

Gaius and the Empire

Gaius's reign is too short, and the surviving ancient accounts too sensationalized, for any serious policies of his to be discerned. During his reign, Mauretania was annexed and reorganized into two provinces, Herod Agrippa was appointed to a kingdom in Palestine, and severe riots took place in Alexandria between Jews and Greeks. These events are largely overlooked in the sources, since they offer slim pickings for sensational stories of madness. [[8]] Two other episodes, however, garner greater attention: Gaius's military activities on the northern frontier, and his vehement demand for divine honors. His military activities are portrayed as ludicrous, with Gauls dressed up as Germans at his triumph and Roman troops ordered to collect sea-shells as "spoils of the sea." Modern scholars have attempted to make sense of these events in various ways. The most reasonable suggestion is that Gaius went north to earn military glory and discovered there a nascent conspiracy under the commander of the Upper German legions, Cn. Lentulus Gaetulicus. The subsequent events are shrouded in uncertainty, but it is known that Gaetulicus and Gaius's brother-in-law, M. Aemilius Lepidus, were executed and Gaius's two surviving sisters, implicated in the plot, suffered exile. Gaius's enthusiasm for divine honors for himself and his favorite sister, Drusilla (who died suddenly in A.D. 38 and was deified), is presented in the sources as another clear sign of his madness, but it may be no more than the young autocrat tactlessly pushing the limits of the imperial cult, already established under Augustus. Gaius's excess in this regard is best illustrated by his order that a statue of him be erected in the Temple at Jerusalem. Only the delaying tactics of the Syrian governor, P. Petronius, and the intervention of Herod Agrippa prevented riots and a potential uprising in Palestine.

Conspiracy and Assassination

The conspiracy that ended Gaius's life was hatched among the officers of the Praetorian Guard, apparently for purely personal reasons. It appears also to have had the support of some senators and an imperial freedman. As with conspiracies in general, there are suspicions that the plot was more broad-based than the sources intimate, and it may even have enjoyed the support of the next emperor Claudius, but these propositions are not provable on available evidence. On 24 January A.D. 41 the praetorian tribune Cassius Chaerea and other guardsmen caught Gaius alone in a secluded palace corridor and cut him down. He was 28 years old and had ruled three years and ten months.


Whatever damage Tiberius's later years had done to the carefully crafted political edifice created by Augustus, Gaius multiplied it a hundredfold. When he came to power in A.D. 37 Gaius had no administrative experience beyond his honorary quaestorship, and had spent an unhappy early life far from the public eye. He appears, once in power, to have realized the boundless scope of his authority and acted accordingly. For the elite, this situation proved intolerable and ensured the blackening of Caligula's name in the historical record they would dictate. The sensational and hostile nature of that record, however, should in no way trivialize Gaius's importance. His reign highlighted an inherent weakness in the Augustan Principate, now openly revealed for what it was -- a raw monarchy in which only the self-discipline of the incumbent acted as a restraint on his behavior. That the only means of retiring the wayward princeps was murder marked another important revelation: Roman emperors could not relinquish their powers without simultaneously relinquishing their lives.


Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus (Caligula) was the third son of Germanicus (nephew of Tiberius) and Agrippina the elder and was born at Antium in AD 12.

It was during his stay with his parents on the German frontier, when he was between two and four, that his miniature versions of military sandals (caligae), caused the soldiers to call him Caligula, 'little sandal'. It was a nickname which remained with him for the rest of his life.

When he was in his late teens his mother and elder brothers were arrested and died horribly due to the plotting of the praetorian prefect Sejanus. No doubt the horrendous demise of his closest relatives must have had a profound effect on the young Caligula.

Attempting to rid himself of Gaius, Sejanus, under the belief that he may be a potential successor, went too far and was alas arrested and put to death by orders of emperor Tiberius in AD 31. In the same year Caligula was invested as a priest.

From AD 32 onwards he lived on the island of Capreae (Capri) in the emperor's lush residence and was appointed joint heir with Tiberius Gemellus, son of Drusus the younger. Though by that time Tiberius was in old age and, with Gemellus still a child, it was obvious that it would be Caligula who would truly inherit the power for himself.

By AD 33 he was made quaestor, though was given no further administrative training at all.

Caligula was very tall, with spindly legs and a thin neck. His eyes and temples were sunken and his forehead broad and glowering. His hair was thin and he was bald on top, though he had a hairy body (during his reign it was a crime punishable by death to look down on him as he passed by, or to mention a goat in his presence).

There were rumours surrounding the death of Tiberius. It is very likely that the 77 year-old emperor did simply die of old age.

But one account tells of how Tiberius was thought to have died. Caligula drew the imperial signet ring from his finger and was greeted as emperor by the crowd. Then however news reached the would-be emperor that Tiberius had recovered and was requesting food be brought to him. Caligula, terrified at any revenge by the emperor returned from the dead, froze on the spot. But Naevius Cordus Sertorius Macro, commander of the praetorians, rushed inside and smothered Tiberius with a cushion, suffocating him.

In any case, with the support of Macro, Caligula was immediately hailed as princeps ('first citizen') by the senate (AD 37). No sooner did he get back to Rome the senate bestowed upon him all the powers of imperial office, and - declaring Tiberius' will invalid - the child Gemellus was not granted his claim to the joint reign.

But it was above all the army which, very loyal to the house of Germanicus, sought to see Caligula as sole ruler.

Caligula quietly dropped an initial request for the deification of the deeply unpopular Tiberius.
All around there was much rejoicing at the investment of a new emperor after the dark later years of his predecessor.
Caligula abolished Tiberius' gruesome treason trials, paid generous bequests to the people of Rome and an especially handsome bonus to the praetorian guard.

There is an amusing anecdote surrounding Caligula's accession to the throne. For he had a pontoon bridge built leading across the sea from Baiae to Puzzuoli; a stretch of water two and a half miles long. The bridge was even covered with earth. With the bridge in place, Caligula then, in the attire of a Thracian gladiator, mounted a horse a rode across it. Once at one end, he got off his horse and returned on a chariot drawn by two horses. These crossings are said to have lasted for two days.

The historian Suetonius explains that this bizarre behaviour was down to a prediction made by an astrologer called Trasyllus to emperor Tiberius, that 'Caligula had no more chance of becoming emperor than of crossing the bay of Baiae on horseback'.

Then, only six months later (October AD 37), Caligula fell very ill. His popularity was such that his illness caused great concern throughout the entire empire.

But, when Caligula recovered, he was no longer the same man. Rome soon found itself living in a nightmare.
According to the historian Suetonius, Caligula since childhood suffered from epilepsy, known in Roman times as the 'parliamentary disease', since it was regarded as an especially bad omen if anyone had a fit while public business was being conducted - Caligula's very distant cousin, Julius Caesar, also suffered occasional attacks. This, or some other cause, violently affected his mental state, and he became totally irrational, with delusions not only of grandeur but also of divinity.

He now suffered from a chronic inability to sleep, managing only few hours of sleep a night, and then suffering from horrendous nightmares. Often he would wander through the palace waiting for daylight.

Caligula had four wives, three of them during his reign as emperor and he was said to have committed incest with each of his three sisters in turn.

In AD 38 Caligula put to death without trial his principal supporter, the praetorian prefect Macro. The young Tiberius Gemellus suffered the same fate.

Marcus Junius Silanus, the father of the first of Caligula's wives was compelled to commit suicide.

Caligula became ever more unbalanced. Seeing the emperor ordering an altar to be built to himself was worrying to Romans. But to propose that statues of himself should be erected in synagogues was more than merely worrying. Caligula's excesses knew no bounds, and he introduced heavy taxation to help pay for his personal expenditure. He also created a new tax on prostitutes and is said to have opened a brothel in a wing of the imperial palace.
All these occurrences naturally alarmed the senate. By now there was no doubt that the emperor of the civilized world was in fact a dangerous madman.

Confirming their worst fears, in AD 39 Caligula announced the revival of the treason trials, the bloodthirsty trials which had given an air of terror to the latter years of Tiberius' reign.

Caligula also kept his favourite racehorse, Incitatus, inside the palace in a stable box of carved ivory, dressed in purple blankets and collars of precious stones. Dinner guests were invited to the palace in the horse's name. And the horse, too, was invited to dine with the emperor. Caligula was even said to have considered making the horse consul.

Rumours of disloyalty began to reach an ever more deranged emperor. In the light of this a recently retired governor of Pannonia was ordered to commit suicide.

Then Caligula considered plans to revive the expansionist campaigns of his father Germanicus across the Rhine. But before he left Rome he learnt that the army commander of Upper Germany, Cnaeus Cornelius Lentulus Gaetulicus, was conspiring to have him assassinated.

In spite of this Caligula in September AD 39 set out for Germany, accompanied by a strong detachment of the praetorian guard and his sisters Julia Agrippina, Julia Livilla and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus (widower of Caligula's dead sister Julia Drusilla).

Soon after he had arrived in Germany not only Gaetulicus but also Lepidus were put to death. Julia Agrippina and Julia Livilla were banished and their property seized by the emperor.

The following winter Caligula spent along the Rhine and in Gaul. Neither his planned German campaign nor a proposed military expedition to Britain ever took place. Though there are reports of his soldiers being ordered to gather shells on the shore as trophies for Caligula's 'conquest of the sea'.

Meanwhile, a terrified senate granted him all kind of honours for his imaginary victories.

It comes as no surprise then that at least three further conspiracies were soon launched against Caligula's life. Were some foiled, then alas one succeeded.

Caligula's suspicion that his joint praetorian prefects, Marcus Arrecinus Clemens and his unknown colleague, were planning his assassination prompted them, in order to avoid their execution, to join a part of senators in a plot.
The conspirators found a willing assassin in the praetorian officer Cassius Chaerea, whom Caligula had openly mocked at court for his effeminacy.

In 24 January AD 41 Cassius Chaerea, together with two military colleagues fell upon the emperor in a corridor of his palace.

Some of his German personal guards rushed to his aid but came too late. Several praetorians then swept through the palace seeking to kill any surviving relatives. Caligula's fourth wife Caesonia was stabbed to death, her baby daughter's skull smashed against a wall.

The scene was truly a gruesome one, but it freed Rome from the insane rule of a tyrant.

Caligula had been emperor for less than four years.


Gaius Caesar Germanicus (August 31, AD 12 - January 24, AD 41), also known as Gaius Caesar or Caligula, was a Roman emperor born in Antium (modern day Anzio) who reigned 37-41. Known for his extremely extravagant, eccentric, and sometimes cruel despotism, he was assassinated in 41 by several of his own guards.

He was the youngest son of Germanicus and Agrippina the Elder. His great-grandfather was Augustus, his great-uncle Tiberius and his uncle Claudius. See Julio-Claudian Family Tree.

Gaius' life started out promising, as he was the son of extremely famous parents. Germanicus was loved as Rome's most beloved general and as Augustus' adopted grandson, which cemented his connection to the Julian Clan. Agrippina was Augustus' granddaughter and was the model for what the perfect Roman woman should be. When he was two or three years of age, Gaius became the mascot of his father's army. The soldiers were amused whenever Agrippina put on a miniature soldier costume on Gaius, and he was soon given his nickname "Caligula" (or Caligulae), meaning "Little Boots" in Latin for the small boots he wore that were part of his costume. He would end up hating this name, but he also hated the name "Gaius".

In 14 AD, when news of Augustus' death made its way across the Empire, the soldiers of Germanicus' camp almost started a mutiny, opposing the rise of Tiberius because they wanted Germanicus as Emperor. Germanicus sent Agrippina and Caligula away from the mess that was soon to brew and tried to calm his men down. The superstitious men became horrified at the prospect of losing their mascot. They promised to be good and so Caligula returned.

The new Emperor, Tiberius, made Germanicus his adopted son. But Tiberius was not too fond of Germanicus; jealousy over Germanicus' popularity may have been a factor. Either way, Germanicus died on October 10, 19 AD. The relationship between Tiberius and Agrippina didn't improve and Caligula, along with his sisters, went to live with their great-grandmother, Livia (widow of Augustus and mother of Tiberius) and then with their grandmother Antonia when Livia died in 27 AD. Livia or Antonia didn't have much time to watch Caligula, so the only comfort he had was with his sisters. Stories have been told of Caligula already beginning incest with his sisters (Agrippina the Younger, Drusilla, and Julia Livilla) around this time.

Caligula's life was in constant danger. Tiberius' Praetorian Prefect, Sejanus, was in power now, doing everything he could to gain power over Tiberius. This wasn't too hard, as Sejanus had control of Rome while Tiberius retired to the island of Capri. Outrageous treason accusations floated around those closest to the Emperor, including most of Caligula's family. His mother Agrippina was banished to an island, where she starved herself. His two oldest brothers, Nero and Drusus, also died. Drusus' body was found locked in a dungeon with stuffing from his mattress in his mouth to keep off the hunger. Before Sejanus could kill Caligula, he was brought down and killed based on information given to Tiberius by Antonia.

By this time Caligula was already in favor with Tiberius. He was summoned to Capri to stay with Tiberius on one of the many villas on the island. Rumors have it of extreme perversions happening on Capri. Tiberius was without the people who managed to keep him in line (Augustus, Livia, his brother Drusus....) so he felt free to indulge in whatever perversions he wanted. Whether this is true or not is hard to say. Unpopular Emperors like Tiberius or Caligula rarely had the whole truth painted about them, and rumors are common throughout ancient texts.

What Caligula did on Capri is hard to say as well. He was extremely servile to Tiberius, acting nice to the old man who had killed his family off. Suetonius says that at night Caligula would turn around and inflict torture on slaves and watch bloody gladiatorial games with glee. In 33 AD Tiberius gave Caligula the position of honorary quaestorship.

On March 16, 37 Tiberius died and on March 18 the Roman Senate annulled Tiberius' will and proclaimed Caligula emperor. Suetonius writes how Caligula's guard Macro smothered him with a pillow, but in reality Tiberius probably died a natural death. Caligula was not Tiberius' only successor. The Emperor had made his young grandson, Tiberius Gemellus, joint heir. Gemellus was hardly an obstacle, and Caligula had him killed soon after becoming Emperor. Caligula's grandmother Antonia committed suicide around this time as well.

The first few months of Caligula's reign were good. He gave cash bonuses to the Praetorian Guards, destroyed Tiberius' treason papers, declared that treason trials were a thing of the past, recalled exiles, and helped those who had been harmed by the Imperial tax system. He was loved by many simply by being the beloved son of Germanicus, the young military mascot they all remembered. Plus, he was a descendant of Augustus, and therefore related to Julius Caesar. He was also a great-grandson of Marc Antony.

And then he became ill.

Recent sources say that Caligula probably had encephalitis. Ancient sources, like Suetonius and Cassius Dio, describe Caligula having a "brain fever". Philo reports it was nothing more than a nervous breakdown, as Caligula wasn't used to the pressures of constant attention after being out of the public eye for most of his life. Rome waited in horror, praying that their beloved Emperor would recover. He became better, but his reign took a sharp turn. The death of Gemellus and of Silanus, Caligula's father-in-law, took place right after Caligula recovered.

Was Caligula really insane? Many would agree that he was, but Philo of Alexandria, author of On the Embassy to Gaius doesn't seem to think so. The leader of an Embassy sent to Caligula to stop a giant statue from being erected on a cherished Jewish landmark, Philo seems to think that Caligula was just a vicious jokester. He was cruel, yes. But insane? Probably not. Philo is one of the few ancient writers to have actually met Caligula.

There are famous stories that he tried to make his beloved stallion, Incitatus, a senator. He probably meant this as a joke. Other stories are of his incest with his sisters (especially Drusilla), the orgy he held at the palace, his campaign in Britain ending with his soldiers collecting seashells as "spoils of the sea", his battle with the god Neptune, wanting to erect a statue of himself in Jerusalem (his good friend Herod Agrippa put a stop to that), calling himself a "God", etc. The list goes on. Ancient sources label him as downright insane, a tyrant. Modern sources attempt to explain his insanity as the product of a messed up childhood or that he was simply misunderstood. One thing is for certain. He was extremely unqualified and unprepared to become Emperor.

He only ruled for three years and ten months. On January 24, 41 the latest conspiracy managed to end his life. While Caligula was in a corridor alone he was struck down by one Cassius Chaera, a man who had been with Germanicus' army long ago, and had become fed up with Caligula for personal reasons (Caligula liked to make fun of Cassius' voice). They also killed Caligula's wife Caesonia and their infant daughter, Julia Drusilla by smashing her head against a wall. After much confusion, as Caligula was the first assassinated Emperor, old uncle Claudius was made Emperor. Caligula was only 28 when he died.


All classical accounts of Gaius "Caligula" (12-41) agree that he possessed elements of madness, cruelty, viciousness, extravagance and megalomania. He is described as a coarse and cruel despot with an extraordinary passion for sadism and a fierce energy. He could get extremely excited and angry. Caligula was tall, spindly, pale and prematurely bald. He was so sensitive about his lack of hair that it was a capital crime for anyone to look down from a high place as Caligula passed by. Sometimes he ordered those with a fine head of hair to be shaved. He made up for lack of hair on his head by an abundance of body-hair. About this, too, he could be equally sensitive; even the mention of "hairy goats" in conversation was dangerous. He used to grimace, which he practised in front of a mirror, and he was an impressive orator. An interesting detail is that his real nature was only gradually revealed. His great-uncle, the Emperor Tiberius (42 BC-37 AD), once said: "There was never a better slave nor a worse master than Caligula."

Caligula was originally called Gaius. He grew up in a camp as a favourite of his father's soldiers. The troops nicknamed him "Caligula" after the child-size military boots he wore in camp. From the Emperor Augustus he inherited ambition and sensuality as well as the family affliction epilepsy. He was caught in bed with his sister Drusilla before he came of age. His famous father Germanicus (15 BC - 19 AD), his mother Agrippina the elder (14 BC-33 AD) and all his brothers were either killed or starved to death by order of the suspicious Emperor Tiberius and his ambitious Praetorian Prefect, Sejanus. During his adolescence, Caligula was a virtual prisoner of Tiberius. By then Tiberius had largely withdrawn from active government and retreated to the island of Capri, where Caligula kept him company and tried to play the part of a dutiful and upright young man. However, he could not fool Tiberius, who described him as a 'serpent'. Capri was ideally situated as a fortress and a refuge where Tiberius was free from fears of conspiracy and assassination. According to the Roman historians Tacitus and Suetonius, at Capri Tiberius felt at liberty to indulge in all kinds of prolonged tortures and sexual perversities until he fell ill in March AD 37 and subsequently collapsed into a coma. The court officials thought he had died and began to congratulate Caligula on his accession, when Tiberius awoke. It is said that the Emperor was smothered with his bedclothes by Caligula's chamberlain, Macro. Thus Caligula came to power.

[Caligula] In the first months Caligula's reign was mild and his policies showed some political judgement. Even then, Caligula took much pleasure in attending punishments and executions and he preferred to have them prolonged. In May his grandmother Antonia, who might have been a good influence, died. In October Caligula fell seriously ill, and after his recovering Caligula seems to have changed for the worse. In a few months he entirely exhausted the treasury, which Tiberius had filled by years of economizing. In 38, while having an affair with Macro's wife, he accused Macro of being her pimp and ordered him to commit suicide. Tiberius' grandson and heir, Tiberius Gemellus, once drank a cough medicine that Caligula mistook for an antidote to poison. When accused, the youth replied: "Antidote - how can one take an antidote against Caesar?" Soon afterwards Tiberius Gemellus was murdered. It became a capital crime not to bequeath the Emperor everything. In 39 Caligula revived Tiberius' treason trials. People suspected of disloyalty were executed or driven to suicide. A supervisor of games and beast-fights was flogged with chains before Caligula for days on end, and was not put to dead until Caligula was offended by the smell of the gangrene in his brain. On one occasion, when there weren't enough condemned criminals to fight the tigers and lions in the arena, Caligula ordered some spectators to be dragged from the benches into the arena. Another time, Caligula decided to proclaim his mastery of the sea by building a three mile long bridge of boats across the Bay of Naples. He crossed them on horseback, wearing the breastplate of Alexander the Great. Thus he claimed that, like the god Neptune, he had ridden across the waters. He gave his horse, Incitatus, jewelled necklaces, a marble stable with furniture and a staff of servants to itself and made it a priest of his temple and even proposed to make it a senator. Caligula loved dressing up and used to dress in rich silk, ornamented with precious stones and he wore jewels on his shoes. Pearls were dissolved in vinegar, which he then drank, and he liked to roll on heaps of gold. Like his nephew, Nero (37 AD-68 AD), Caligula appeared as athlete, charioteer, singer and dancer. To increase his revenues Caligula introduced all possible forms of taxation and rich people who had involuntary willed him their estates were murdered. Once, when a supposedly rich man had finally died, but turned out to have left no money, Caligula commented: "Oh dear, he died in vain." Caligula even opened a brothel in his palace where Roman matrons, their daughters and freeborn youths could be hired for money.

Caligula was irresistibly attracted by every pretty young woman whom he did not possess. He even committed incest with his own three sisters. He would carefully examine women of rank in Rome and whenever he felt so inclined, he would send for whoever pleased him best. He debauched them and left them like fruit he had tasted and thrown away. Afterwards, he would openly discuss his bedfellow in detail. His first wife, Julia Claudilla, died young. In the first year of his reign Caligula attended a wedding and ran off with the bride, Livia Orestilla, whom he divorced after a few days. He soon tired of his rich third wife, Lollia Paulina, too. He made the older Milonia Caesonia (5-41) his fourth wife in 38, when she was already pregnant. The sensual and immoral Caesonia was an excellent match for him. Caesonia gave birth to a daughter, Julia Drusilla, whom Caligula considered his own child, because "she was so savage even in childhood that she used to attack with her nails the faces and eyes of the children who played with her". Whenever Caligula kissed the neck of his wife or mistress, he used to say: "This lovely neck will be chopped as soon as I say so". [Agrippina the younger] In addition, Caligula had sexual relations with men like the pantomime actor Mnester, Valerius Catullus and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus. Lepidus was married to Caligula's favourite sister Drusilla and also engaged in affairs with Caligula's other sisters. Meanwhile, Caligula forced Drusilla to live with him as his wife, following the practice of the Egyptian pharaohs. It was said that when Drusilla became pregnant, Caligula couldn't wait for the birth of their god-like child and disembowelled her to pluck the unborn baby from her womb. True or not, Drusilla died and Caligula had her deified. The next year Caligula had Marcus Aemilius Lepidus murdered. In addition, he had his sisters Livilla and Agrippina the younger (to the right), Nero's mother, exiled to an island and confiscated their possessions.

Caligula demanded that he be worshipped as a god. Caligula's self-indulgence in his supposed divinity deteriorated his insane behaviour. He was convinced that he was entitled to behave like a god. Thus, he set up a special temple with a life-sized statue of himself in gold, which was dressed each day in clothing such as he wore himself. As a sun god he courted the moon. He claimed fellowship with the gods as his equals, identifying himself in particular with Jupiter, but also with female gods like Juno, Diana or Venus. Standing near the image of Jupiter, Caligula once asked the actor Apelles whether Jupiter or Caligula were greater. When Apelles hesitated, Caligula had him cut to pieces with the whip, praising his voice as he pled for mercy, remarking on the melodiousness of his groans. He justified himself by saying: "Remember that I have the power to do anything to anyone."

Caligula's behaviour, a splitting of emotions and thoughts, is nowadays diagnosed as schizophrenia. The absolute power that Caligula enjoyed strengthened and developed the worst features of his character. His grandmother, Antonia, and his favourite sister, Drusilla, who could both have had a restraining influence on him, died during the first year of his reign. In his youth - as a favourite of the soldiers - he must have been thoroughly spoilt. The near-extinction of his family and the subsequent fear for his own life during his adolescent years will surely have marked his personality. However, Caligula's madness could have been organically influenced, because it was said to have become apparent after a serious illness which he had suffered in October 37. [Caligula] If this disease was encephalitis, then it could very likely have been a contributory factor to the bizarre features of his behaviour, for encephalitis can cause a marked character change and give rise to impulsive, aggressive and intemperate activity, similar in its symptoms to those of schizophrenia. In addition, Caligula had inherited epilepsy. Some forms of epilepsy have symptoms similar to those of both schizophrenia and the post-encephalitic syndrome. At times, because of sudden faintness, Caligula was sometimes hardly able to move his limbs, to stand up, to collect his thoughts or to hold up his head. He suffered severely from sleeplessness, never sleeping for more than three hours a night and even for that length of time he did not sleep quietly; he was terrified by strange manifestations.

After a 4-year-reign the Praetorians stabbed Caligula to death when he left the theatre. His fourth wife was stabbed to death too, while their infant daughter's head was smashed against a wall. One of the conspirators was Cornelius Sabinus, whose wife had been debauched and publicly humiliated by Caligula. Another conspirator was Cassius Chaerea, who hated Caligula, because he had remorselessly imitated his high, effiminate voice. Suetonius wrote that Caligula's reign of terror had been so severe that the Romans refused to believe that he was actually dead.










This web page was last updated on: 23 December, 2008